Martinez attended public school, where he admits he was a poor student from kindergarten through second grade. That year, when he was 8, his father's death came flooding back to him, and he lay awake crying at night. "I had a hard time concentrating; learning was difficult," Martinez says. "Maybe it was the planes and the noise, I thought that for a long time; maybe I was ADD."
From third through eighth grades, his mother moved him to a private school in the neighborhood run by the Gospel Center Church. "I was supposed to be a preacher, I guess. I hated it there."
Petra says she transferred him to the Christian fundamentalist school across the street from their house more for discipline than for religious reasons. "I'm not that religious; I believe in God, not candles and saints and altars," she says. "It was a good school, the children were very respectful and they had neat, conservative uniforms. I thought it was the best for him."
The school was as much of a prison as the Madison Street Jail would be, Martinez recalls. "We had no teacher, just these workbooks. We were all facing the wall and had dividers between us like these little cubicles. If we had a question, we'd stick a Christian flag in the little hole at the top of the cubicle and the principal or whoever would come by. If we wanted our work checked, we'd stick an American flag up."
He talks of being fined if he didn't attend church on Sunday, and of having his Encyclopedia Brown books taken away from him because Jesus wasn't a central character. "It was a horrible place."
"The school is closed now. I guess in a way I closed it down," he says as he looks through the car window.
He closed the school down by burning it to the ground.
He looks out the car window at the rebuilt church and adjacent school building he once torched.
It was in the darkroom at Central High School that the world opened up for him. "Through the lens of my camera, I saw that college was a possibility. No one in my family ever went to college. I felt trapped growing up, I had nothing, no opportunities, nobody ever told me I could do anything."
The family home was crowded with Martinez's siblings, and as he grew older their actions angered him. They were doing drugs and freeloading off his mother, he says. It was a chaotic environment. One of his brothers was constantly in and out of prison, Martinez says. Another of his sisters, the mother of the nephew he cares for, was a crack addict. Another brother dealt drugs from the window of a neighborhood liquor store. "Jacob doesn't like my family," his mother explains, "but there was never anything I could do except pray. You can't change things, you can't change people."
His mother suffers from mental illness as well. She has been hospitalized for it in the past, and now takes Prozac and visits her psychiatrist regularly. "I suffered a lot with my first husband, and then with Jacob's father as well. I suffered so much I got sick. All of my children suffered, but Jacob and I are the only ones who take pills for our illnesses."
Martinez longed for a better life. He wanted to be an artist, and photography was the discipline he chose. "I wanted to tell the truth, and I thought the camera was a way to capture honesty. I wanted to be a photojournalist and travel the world telling other people's stories." Above all, he says, "I wanted to escape."
Crucial to Martinez's artistic growth was a man he calls his hero and mentor, artist and educator Martin Moreno.
"I met Jake at Wesley Community Center when he was like 14," Moreno says. "I used to teach art classes there, and one day he just strolled in, I think we were doing carving. He was intrigued, he was into photography already, and he just kept coming around."